John B. Gordon on General Grant

When Ulysses S. Grant was dying from cancer, he made this prediction in the concluding paragraphs of his brilliant Personal Memoirs:

I cannot stay to be a living witness to the correctness of this prophecy; but I feel it within me that it is to be so. The universally kind feeling expressed for me at a time when it was supposed that each day would prove my last, seemed to me the beginning of the answer to “Let us have peace.”

The expression of these kindly feelings were not restricted to a section of the country, nor to a division of the people. They came from individual citizens of all nationalities; from all denominations—the Protestant, the Catholic, and the Jew; and from the various societies of the land—scientific, educational, religious or otherwise. Politics did not enter into the matter at all.

I am not egotist enough to suppose all this significance should be given because I was the object of it. But the war between the States was a very bloody and a very costly war. One side or the other had to yield principles they deemed dearer than life before it could be brought to an end. I commanded the whole of the mighty host engaged on the victorious side. I was, no matter whether deservedly so or not, a representative of that side of the controversy. It is a significant and gratifying fact that Confederates should have joined heartily in this spontaneous move. I hope the good feeling inaugurated may continue to the end.

The prediction came true as the whole nation soon mourned his passing and former Union and Confederate generals rode together in Grant’s funeral procession.

I have always been struck by these words of John B. Gordon, former commander of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia, after Grant died: (more…)

Published in: on February 17, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on John B. Gordon on General Grant  
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Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge!

Something for the weekend.  Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge!, the campaign song of Calvin Coolidge in 1924.    Although Coolidge is one of my favorite presidents, perhaps one of the most competent presidents the country has ever had, I think the campaign song is rather blah.  I doubt if Silent Cal approved of it!

Published in: on February 16, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Keep Cool and Keep Coolidge!  
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Return the Flags

‘But they’re wearing blue, grandpa. They are yankees.’

‘No son. They’re Americans.’

Rough Riders (1998)

The video above matter of factly displays the flag of the 28th Virginia captured by the 1 Minnesota on July 3, 1863 during the repulse of Picket’s Charge.    The 1 Minnesota of course had its moment of glory when it delayed a Confederate attack with a charge that left 82% of the regiment dead and wounded, buying time with their blood for Union reinforcements to hold the line against the advancing Confederates, and likely saved the Union Army from defeat at Gettysburg.

One can understand the significance of the captured flag for the people of Minnesota.  Of course the flag also has significance to the state of Virginia, and a conflict has been simmering for years over the refusal of Minnesota to return the flag to Virginia:

Minnesota returned fire Wednesday when a Senate committee voted to ignore a request from the state of Virginia and keep a controversial Civil War battle flag.

The flag, which features the stars and bars of the Confederate emblem, was captured by the Minnesota 1st Volunteer Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. The 28th Virginia Infantry regiment, a re-enactment group based in the Roanoke, Va., area, has tried for years to regain possession of the flag.

Members say Minnesota is obligated to return the flag under a 1905 congressional resolution that says flags captured in battles should be returned to their originating states.

In 1998, then-Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III rebuffed a request from the 28th Virginia Infantry regiment, saying the law applied only to flags already in the War Department’s possession. He also ruled that the group had no legal standing to request the flag.

Minnesota refused to return the flag.

Last year, Virginia’s Legislature and governor signed off on a resolution urging the Minnesota Historical Society to ‘‘facilitate’’ the flag’s return to Virginia.

The Historical Society again refused. (more…)

Published in: on February 15, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Governor Dale

and cruel Governor Dale, who broke men on the wheel

Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster

In his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, Benet has Satan conjure up the damned souls of 12 villains from American history to serve as a jury in the case of Satan v. Jabez Stone. Only seven of these entities are named. This is the sixth in a series giving brief biographies of these men. Go here to read the biography of Simon Girty, here to read the “biography” of the Reverend John Smeet,  here to read the biography of Major Walter Butler, here to read the biography of Thomas Morton and here to read the biography of King Philip.  Today we look at Governor Thomas Dale.

The Virginia colony was close to collapse.  Too many useless “gentlemen” of leisure who had come to the New World thinking they could pick gold off the ground and quickly return to England rich.  They had not bargained for a hard pioneer life and many seemed to prefer starvation rather than forsaking their lazy habits.  Into this fiasco in the making came Thomas Dale in 1611.  A Surrey man, Dale had served both as a soldier in the Netherlands and in the Navy.  He was a military man to his marrow and something of a martinet.  The Virginia Company, realizing that strong leadership was needed if the new colony was not to dissolve into anarchy appointed Dale as Deputy Governor and as “Marshall of Virginia”.

When he got to Jamestown Dale was alarmed at the dilapidated condition of the buildings and immediately convened a meeting of the council to appoint crews to begin rebuilding Jamestown.  Dale would serve as acting Governor for the colony for three and a half months in 1611 and in 1614-1616.  In the interim Dale served as “Marshall”.  Whatever his title, while he was in the colony it was clear to all that he was in charge.

He introduced the first code of laws to the colony, popularly known as Dale’s code, which is quite severe.  However, coming into a literally lawless community I can see why Dale would have erred on the side of sternness. (more…)

John Cardinal McCloskey

John_Cardinal_McCloskey_-_Brady-Handy

With the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI this week, attention is turning to the conclave in March.  I thought this would be a good time to recall the first American eligible to participate in a conclave:  John Cardinal McCloskey, the first American cardinal.

Born on March 10, 1810 to Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, New York when he was seventeen he had a life altering accident.  Driving a team of oxen pulling a wagon full of heavy logs, the wagon overturned and buried John beneath the logs for several hours.  For the next few days he drifted in and out of consciousness and was blind.  He recovered his sight, but his health was permanently damaged by the accident.  Out of his travail he decided to become a priest.  He was ordained a priest of the diocese of New York in 1834.  He wanted to minister to the victims of a cholera epidemic, but his bishop, recognizing rare ability in the young priest, ordered him to Rome where he studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University and the University of the Sapienza.  Upon his return to America he was appointed pastor of Saint Joseph’s in Greenwich Village where he served from 1837-1844.  Homeless children were a special concern of his while he served as pastor.  He also served as the first president of Saint John’s College at Fordham from 1841-42.  In 1843 at the age of 33 he was appointed coadjutor Bishop of New York.  During this time period he was instrumental in the conversion of Isaac Hecker who eventually became a priest and founded the Paulist Fathers.

He was appointed first bishop of the newly created diocese of Albany in 1847.  During his tenure he founded three academies for boys and one for girls, four orphanages, fifteen parochial schools and a seminary.  He was instrumental in bringing many religious orders into the diocese.  With the death of Archbishop John “Dagger John” Hughes, he was, over his protests of unworthiness and unfitness, appointed the second Archbishop of New York.    The type of man he was may be measured by his delivering  the opening sermon of the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore, in spite of being informed just moments before that Saint Patrick’s had been gutted by fire.  He rebuilt Saint Patrick’s and in 1870 participated in the First Vatican Council.  Pio Nono must have taken note of him, because in 1875 he made him the first American cardinal.  The new cardinal attributed his red hat to no merit of his:  “Not to my poor merits but to those of the young and already vigorous and most flourishing Catholic Church of America has this honor been given by the Supreme Pontiff. Nor am I unaware that, when the Holy Father determined to confer me this honor he had regard to the dignity of the See of New York, to the merits and devotion of the venerable clergy and numerous laity, and that he had in mind even the eminent rank of this great city and the glorious American nation.” (more…)

Published in: on February 13, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Lincoln and the Will of God

Justice exalteth a nation: but sin maketh nations miserable.

Proverbs 13:14

Today is the 204th birthday of Abraham Lincoln.  One of the many things I find fascinating about Lincoln is his view of the Civil War, a view which is not much considered these days.  Lincoln viewed it simply as a punishment for the sin of slavery.  Lincoln put this idea forth clearly in a letter to Albert Hodges on April 4, 1864.  Hodges was the editor of the Frankfort Commonwealth in Kentucky and Lincoln was explaining why he had found it necessary to adopt a policy of Emancipation and to enlist black troops, neither policy being popular in Kentucky or the other border states.  At the close of the letter Lincoln disclaimed that he had controlled the events which had led to his embracing abolition as a war goal:

I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation’s condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.

God was willing the removal of slavery and gave the War as a punishment to both North and South for the sin of slavery.  This was not a spur of the moment thought by Lincoln, but rather the fruit of much anguished contemplation as to why the War came and what it meant.

We see Lincoln’s thought process in development in a note that he wrote and which was not meant for publication.  Lincoln’s secretary John Hay found it and preserved it.  It has become known as Lincoln’s Meditation on the Divine Will:

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true — that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds. (more…)

Published in: on February 12, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln and the Will of God  
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Lincoln Courtesy of Walt Disney

Not bad as a simplified version of Lincoln and his role in American history.  The speech of the animatronic Lincoln consists of a compilation from various Lincoln speeches and writings:

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.

What constitutes the bulwark of our liberty and independence? It is not our frowning embattlements, our bristling sea coasts. These are not our reliance against tyranny. Our reliance is in the love of liberty, which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.

At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some trans-Atlantic military giant to step the ocean and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined could not, by force, take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years. At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, that if it ever reach us, it must spring from amongst us; it cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we ourselves must be the authors and finishers. As a nation of free men, we must live through all times, or die by suicide. (more…)

Published in: on February 11, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Lincoln Courtesy of Walt Disney  
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Last of the Light Brigade

C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre!  (It is magnificent but it is not war!)

Comment of French Marshal Pierre Bosquet on the charge of the light brigade.

The nineteenth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here and here.   Kipling throughout his career always had a soft spot in his heart for the common British soldier.  Soldiers in Kipling’s youth were regarded at worst as common criminals and at best a necessary evil:  to be cheered as heroes in time of peril and left to rot in penury in peace time when they were too old to serve.  By his poems pointing out the rank ingratitude of this treatment meted out to men who fought for Queen and country, Kipling played a large role in changing civilian attitudes toward the military and improving the lives of the “Tommys”.

One of his most searing poems on this subject was The Last of the Light Brigade.

The British have produced some of the great captains of History, Marlborough and Wellington quickly come to mind.  However, a more common theme in British military history is the courage of common soldiers redeeming with their blood the mistakes of their generals.  Few conflicts better exemplify this than the Crimean War.  Fought between 1853-1856, the war consisted of France, Great Britain, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia (prior to it growing to encompass all Italy) against Russia.  The causes of the war boiled down to the fact that the Ottoman Empire was in a state of rapid decay and France and Russia were squabbling about which power would have predominance as “protecting power” of the Holy Places in the Holy Land, with the traditional antipathy of Catholics and Orthodox lending fuel to the fire.  This fairly meaningless squabble eventually led to war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia with Great Britain and France rallying to The Sick Man of Europe as the Turks were called. (more…)

Spartacus

Something for the weekend.  The intro to the movie Spartacus (1960), one of the best film intros, with a superb melding of the music and “Roman” statuary.  I saw this film initially in 1967 when it was first broadcast on television and it awakened a lifelong love of ancient history in me.

The film is full of historical howlers, par for the course for Hollywood.  Crassus, the richest man in Rome, was not a proto-Fascist dictator.  Spartacus, who is a shadowy figure because the source material is sparse (only Plutarch’s Life of Crassus and a brief section in Appian’s Civil Wars), did not simply march to the sea to escape Italy with his liberated slaves, but marauded throughout Italy, defeating several Roman consular armies in the process.  There was no  Senator called Gracchus, magnificently portrayed in the film by Charles Laughton, who led the  opposition to Crassus, and Crassus wasn’t interested in personal dictatorship in any event during the time he put down Spartacus and his slave army.  The list of substantial factual errors in the film could go on for considerable length.

However, all that is beside the point.  The film is a magnificent work of art, and it gets the atmosphere of the late Roman Republic right:  old Roman morality being forgotten, a growth of decadence fueled by ever more wealth from foreign conquests, endless amounts of slaves flooding into Italy from the same foreign conquests, factions in the Senate engaging in what amounted to a cold civil war between bouts of hot civil war, the Roman Republican government teetering on the brink of military dictatorship, the movie presents all of these elements more clearly than any  classroom lecture could.

At the time the film attracted attention because it, rightly, broke the Black List against Communists in Hollywood by listing Dalton Trumbo as the screenwriter.  The movie was loosely based on the novel of the same name by former Hollywood Communist Howard Fast.  (Fast quit the Communist Party in disgust after the Soviets crushed the Hungarian Uprising in 1956.)  The leftist politics are fairly easily to discern with Crassus as a proto-Fascist dictator, howlingly anachronistic, and Spartacus and his slave followers as the revolting proletariat.  It is a tribute to the quality of the film that this ham-fisted attempt at agit-prop fails to destroy the film. (more…)

Lee the Prophet?

At the beginning of the Civil War most people on both sides were confident of a brief war and an early victory for the side they supported.  Wiser heads, among them Lincoln and Davis, assumed that the war would be long and bloody.  Robert E. Lee was firmly in the camp of Lincoln and Davis.  I have always been struck by this statement that he purportedly made on May 5, 1861: (more…)

Published in: on February 8, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (11)  
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